TechnoFeminisms: A Conversation About Pasts, Presents, and Futures

Supporting Next-Generation Technofeminist Scholars

Dànielle: The conversation, to me, has nicely turned to what we see as needs for the current and next generation of technofeminist scholars, including transnational, global approaches; deliberately intersectional and richly, diversely intersectional approaches; an activist orientation. A specific angle for doing so, it sounds like, has been the suggestion to take over university presses or pursue the type of activist editorships that Gail and Cindy have held and Cheryl Ball have held. Are there other either fine-grained or broad issues that we want to encourage the next generation of technofeminist scholars to address?

Pam: There are more pressing needs in our country right now to be active outside of the academy. So for me that’s the tension and the question: How do I spread my energy? I’m a full, tenured professor so I’m not actively working towards tenure and promotion as an assistant professor, so I can do things that aren’t going to get me tenure, but that concerns me.

Donna: It can also be in what we study, I think. Jessica Ouellette (2017) just won the Best Dissertation Award from Feminism and Rhetoric. Her dissertation was studying how people try to do transnational activism online, and then from that make recommendations about activist rhetorical digital practice. I want to see our knowledge in some ways get to the point where we’re actually helping people do the kinds of things that we also want to do. Because that’s our expertise. We know how to do rhetorical appeals. We understand how to get things to circulate. So how do we help groups do that better? Jessica has a dual appointment in English and women’s studies. So doing this work actually is part, then, of what will count for tenure.

…that’s our expertise. We know how to do rhetorical appeals. We understand how to get things to circulate. So how do we help groups do that better?

We also have to pay more attention to capitalism. I feel like the role of technocapital, the deep web, data mining, the kinds of ways in which what we do on the surface is used in many other ways and how that affects the platforms available to us, I feel like we don’t pay enough attention there. These will be pressing issues for the future generation of scholars. I think we can no longer act as if the surface level of the web is where everything is happening and that the rest doesn’t affect it in some way.

Barbi: What we’re seeing more and more with social networking and social media are advertisements and messages based off of logarithms. What’s going to matter about you as an individual is seeing your own intersectionality as a human being, but also how that is going to be used against you in a political climate where there’s so much animosity.

Jackie: I was just thinking of Gamergate and that’s such a serious issue for feminists on the web because it has a very chilling effect to know that when you stick your neck out, somebody is going to chop at it. That is a very real world consideration for women on the web, and I’m wondering how we can, as technofeminist activists, intervene and change that. That to me seems like something that’s at the very crux of technofeminism in the academy and then how it works outside; people are doing cultural criticism from a feminist standpoint and are being attacked. What about people who aren’t in academia who are doing that same sort of cultural criticism? How do they fill the space with that on the web? That’s the sort of erasure and silencing that happens on the web. How can we do something about that as technofeminists?

Cindy: The thing that comes to mind are the recent issues around the letter that that guy wrote about women at Google. I was heartened to see all the women writing online, maybe in venues we don’t typically read. They were eloquent and persuasive and madder than hell at his comments. This was a kind of marvelous writing: Real world, pragmatic, feminist writing that comes from lived experience. I’m not sure that we would have the ethos, necessarily, to write as persuasively as those women did.

Kris: Clearly what’s happening outside the academy should influence what we study and what we teach as technofeminists, and inside the academy. We have a responsibility to make these issue visible for students and to help them see the ways in which even our very notions of self, particularly for women, are being co-opted and objectified.

Clearly what’s happening outside the academy should influence what we study and what we teach as technofeminists...

Cindy: Just this morning, the last thing that I did last night before I went to bed was to post that DACA announcement on my Facebook. People have asked to share. And that’s a small, potent gesture. Share this thought. But if we do it as a group, as a collective, if a lot of us do it all the time, our power is multiplied by the number of women and feminists there are in this world. And I love that thought. I think technology does help us there.

Gail: As we’re talking about going outside academe but also into other areas in academe, and I think what work that Lisa has done, for example; you were one of the first to introduce issues of color into the field as far as computers were concerned.

Lisa: I’m really interested in how there’s no such thing as technofeminism now. There’s only feminism that’s aware and critical of its own platforms and feminism that takes them for granted. So I think technofeminism is an interesting formation. To me it feels inherently activist because there was a time when being a feminist and studying technology when a lot of us were coming up was a radical gesture.

I think for the younger feminists there is no feminism without technology because they cannot imagine how they would possibly articulate it. How they would network around it, how they would archive it, how they would understand it in dialogue with other people? I’m thinking of the crowdsourced syllabi for Beyoncé’s Lemonade and how it shared the work of feminist women of color from the 1980s. The Google memo reminded me of a much older style of critique and it was very easy to make fun of because it had no sophistication. I think that the sophistication is in the algorithms now, which profits so much from women’s labor, particularly around selfies but also around other kinds of gendered production. Women are also shouldering a lot more of the educational debt than men are for many reasons. Because of the inhumanities, because of being here in larger numbers.

I think that there’s now a real anger at us. Generally professors are not viewed in a positive way now, so I’m really hopeful that there’s some strategy that can come about from feminism within the academy. Because we were and are doing this work. We’ve been doing it for a long time. But when people are doing it for free and they’re doing it from their lived, gendered, and race identities, are they peers? How do we speak to them? How do we open that channel? How can we possibly not include their production? So many people come into my class from transgender perspectives, who are transgender themselves, and already know Butler. I don’t have to teach that. They taught that to themselves on Pinterest.

Jackie: I think that points to a really exciting time in terms of co-learning with students, which I know is a pedagogical buzz phrase. But I think that having students come in who have read Butler or who have taught themselves Butler because of Pinterest or because of their friends’ social media distractions, it’s a great time for us to learn. And we can ask, how is Butler being talked about now, as opposed to how did we talk about Butler back when Gender Trouble (2006) or Bodies That Matter (2011) or any of her recent work were published? For me it’s an exciting time to think that my students are bringing in stuff that forced me to think about what I thought I already knew in new ways.

And part of that rethinking has to be okay, well what then is the purpose of college education? Is the purpose for them to come in and then we teach them this stuff that is still too isolated from the real world? How do we make our work matter? And how do we teach students their work matters in the world? And set in a real world, not just by saying, “Oh it matters.” But actually engaging in public discourse, actually engaging in public platforms with our students and our colleagues?